NO EARLIER MENTION of the Arkansas river has been found than that in narratives of the Coronado expedition of 1540-1541. The river was first sighted by the Spaniards accompanying the expedition on June 29, 1541. This being the day of St. Peter and St. Paul, the name was given the river. One of the expeditions members called the stream the "River of Quivera."  Marquette, the French explorer, called the stream the "Akansa." Mexicans called it the "Rio Napete." William Delisle, on his map of 1700, called it the "Acansa." Emanuel Bowens map of 1752 lists it as the "Rio des Acansas." LePage du Pratzs map of 1757 designates the stream as the "Arkansas," this probably being one of the earliest spellings of the name as we have it today. 
The Arkansas has been termed the "Nile of America," traversing the miles of sandy country to the east of the Rocky Mountains. This appellation may have been applied to the river by Marshall M. Murdock, founder of the Wichita Eagle, who many years ago wrote a classic under that title which has been widely read and copied. Mr. Murdock also frequently referred in a jocular way to the stream in the columns of the Eagle as the "Rackensack."
The Arkansas river rises in central Colorado, in a pocket of peaks in Lake county, near present Leadville, at an altitude of 10,000 feet. After leaving that county it takes a southerly course for about seventy miles, makes a turn to the east, through the celebrated Royal Gorge, then flows on and across the Great Plains region. Up to the early 1880s there was always an abundance of water in the river, and the channel, even down to the ever-flowing Little Arkansas, near Wichita, was usually filled. Occasionally, however, the river was a bed of dry sand above the mouth of the Little Arkansas for a couple of months in the fall. 
After leaving Lake county, Colorado, the river flows through Fremont, Pueblo, Otero, Bent and Prowers counties before it leaves that state, and enters Kansas near Coolidge, in Hamilton county. From here it crosses that county and the counties of Kearny, Finney, Gray, Ford, Edwards, Pawnee, Barton, Rice, Reno, Sedgwick, Sumner and Cowley, leaving Kansas at a point about eight miles southeast of Arkansas City. From here the stream cuts across northeastern Oklahoma, bisects Arkansas and joins the Mississippi at present Napoleon.
In that portion of Colorado east of the Rocky Mountains and in Kansas, the course of the Arkansas is through gently rolling sandy soil, the bed of the river making up in width what it lacks in depth -- in some places being about a mile wide.
Ordinarily the river receives but little water from its tributaries, except in times of flood. These usually occur in the spring, when the snows of the mountains begin to melt and spring rains set in. The most disastrous flood of this sort occurred in the upper river in Colorado, reaching Pueblo early in June, 1921, causing the death of over 500 persons and the destruction of property worth $10,000,000 or more.
Lowest stages of water in the river occur from August to December. During prolonged dry spells water in the channel has been known to disappear suddenly, only to make its reappearance as unexpectedly within the next day or two. This phenomenon was recorded by one of the early Sedgwick county newspapers, which, having mentioned that the river was dry, discovered water in the channel the next day. A short time later the water again disappeared, and reappearing just before the paper went to press caused the scribe to record an item to the effect that "The Arkansas wet its bed again last night." Low water was not unheard of even in the lower reaches of the river, for the Junction City Union, of November 9, 1867, citing the Fort Smith (Ark.) Herald as authority, said that "the Arkansas river was so low above that place last week that a drove of cows stopping to drink in it, drank the river in two." Another instance of the scarcity of water in the channel occurred during the past two decades, when the city of Hutchinson made an appropriation to cover the expense of sprinkling the bed of the river for the purpose of keeping down the dust.
The drainage area of the Arkansas is variously given as 177,510 square miles by the U.S. Weather Bureau, and from 185,000 to 188,000 square miles by standard encyclopedias,  this being greater than the area drained by the upper Mississippi. The stream is the greatest western affluent of the Missouri-Mississippi system, and its length is variously given as 1,477 miles by the Weather Bureau, and approximately 2,000 miles by the encyclopedias.
It has been common knowledge for years that there is an under-flow of the Arkansas river. Probably this underflow was first noticed in June, 1860, the year of the great trans-Mississippi drought. That year M.M. Murdock dug down in the valley and found water. He dug a series of holes on different nights, and one night he sprinkled bran on the surface of the water and next morning when he got up the bran was on the south or southwest side of the hole. He called the attention of a government man to it, who said he had noticed the same thing. This government agent reported that the underflow was moving at the rate of eight or nine feet in every twenty-four hours.  Further investigations of this flow were made in the year 1904, by representatives of the U.S. Geological Survey, and some interesting facts were brought out. This underflow moves at an average rate of eight feet every twenty-four hours, in the general direction of the valley. The water plane slopes to the east at the rate of 7.5 feet per mile and towards the river at the rate of two to three feet per mile. The moving ground water extends several miles north from the river valley. No north or south limit was found. The underflow has its origin in the rainfall on the sand hills to the south of the river and on the bottom lands and plains north of the river. The influence of the floods in the river upon the ground-water level does not extend one half mile north or south of the channel. A heavy rain contributes more water to the underflow than a flood. 
With the settlement of that portion of Kansas lying along the river between Dodge City and the west line of the state, the pioneers in irrigation began construction of canals and ditches, and the waters of the Arkansas were diverted for irrigation purposes. Miles and miles of canals and ditches were constructed between the 100th meridian and the Colorado line. With the influx of settlers in the valley from the base of the mountains eastward to the Kansas line, so much of the flow of the river was diverted for agricultural purposes that by the time the river reached Kansas the stream was dry.  This action by farm owners in Colorado was the cause of ruining many farmers living along the river in western Kansas, and finally resulted in a suit brought by the state of Kansas against Colorado for a more equal distribution of the Arkansas waters. This case was fought through the United States courts, but was decided against Kansas.
While the lower portion of the river is navigable as far as Fort Smith, early writers had stated that the head of navigation on the stream was twenty-four miles below old Fort Mann, this being about south of present Kinsley, in Edwards county. However, navigation to that point could only have been accomplished during a period of flood, and only then by boats of light draft. Some attempts at navigation had been made during the 1870s, and a small steamboat -- the Aunt Sally -- reached Arkansas City and was moored there on Sunday morning, June 30, 1878. During the early 1880s several small craft had managed to navigate from the lower river up as far as Wichita, but these attempts to prove the navigability of the river were disappointing to those most vitally interested. Dreams of being able to market surplus farm crops down the river by use of ferryboats, flat boats and steamers did not always materialize, for many cargoes shipped by water were stranded on sand bars en route. After a few trials these attempts were discontinued, owing to the shifting channel, sand bars and lack of water.
Ferries on the river north of the Oklahoma-Kansas line, with possibly one or two exceptions, do not antedate the establishment of towns in Cowley county about the year 1870. The first ferry encountered after crossing the boundary line was probably near Delphi, now Arkansas City.
On January 8, 1870, the Arkansas River Ferry Co. received a charter from the state of Kansas for a ferry near the town of Delphi, and in the vicinity of the mouth of the Walnut river -- about two miles above it and south of the town. The incorporators of this company were H.B. Morton, G.H. Norton, W.R. Brown, E.C. Manning, P.B. Plumb, C.V. Eskridge and L.B. Kellogg.  The principal office of the company was to be located at or in the vicinity of Delphi. Capital stock was placed at $2,000, with shares $100 each. This charter was filed with the secretary of state January 10, 187O.  More than likely this company never functioned, as no further history been located.
According to county commissioners records, the first ferry license for the Arkansas river within Cowley county was issued April 11, 1871, to W.H. Speers and others. This ferry was located at the point where the South Sixth street bridge of later date crossed the river, and was one of the busiest ferries in the county. The crossing was where the old Shoo Fly trail  from the west entered Arkansas City, and also where a few years later the Ponca trail  from the south reached the town. 
Various authorities agree that there was very little water in the Arkansas river in 1871, and the probabilities are that the ferryboat did not operate very much that year, if at all. There also appears to be a difference of opinion as to who operated the first ferry. According to Mrs. E.A. Eaton, who has been a resident of Arkansas City since 1871, the ferry was located at South Sixth street and Lincoln avenue, which is west of the main part of the city and to the south. A.A. Davis, known as "Peg Leg" Davis, was the operator, being assisted by his son, Adley, a lad in his teens.  According to Mrs. Eaton, Davis operated the ferry up to the time the first bridge was built, probably in 1873 or 1874, at the site of the ferry location.  His boat was large enough to carry four horses and two boomer wagons, by unhitching the horses. It was operated by means of pulleys on a cable which was attached to trees on either side of the river, the boat having a large spoke wheel, like the old-fashioned steamboats. There were many Indians in the vicinity during those early days, but very few made use of the ferry, and then not very frequently, as Mr. Davis would not trust them.
After the building of the first bridge, the ferry south of town was moved up the river to a location immediately west of town. This first bridge was carried away or partially destroyed on several occasions. Lacking opportunity to consult commissioners journals or early Cowley county newspapers, we are unable to give all dates when floods caused damage. However, the river was at flood stage, being bank full early in April, 1876. On July 12,  following, the river was reported to be twenty-six feet high at Little Rock, Ark., and full to the top of the bank at Arkansas City.
Unprecedentedly high waters in the river during late May, 1877, carried away or disabled all the bridges on the lower Arkansas, every one in Cowley county being put out of commission. A portion of the Sixth street bridge -- two spans on the south -- was all that survived the flood. A temporary ferry service was soon established at this point, the local paper making the following announcement:
"A wagon will carry parties to and from the river free of charge. They will also convey them across the river in a boat. The rope has been sent for and the boat is building, so that before many days the ferry will be running." 
About this time William H. Speers, mill operator, inaugurated a temporary free service, announcing that he "has a new boat and is carrying all parties with grists for his mill free of charge across the Arkansas."  Mr. Speers is listed in the "Census of 1875," Cowley county, Creswell township, p.18, as being 37 years of age; a miller, and a native of Ohio. He came to Kansas from Illinois.
Lack of bridges was a serious handicap to the town and county, as settlers were coming into the region every day. The following, from a local paper, describes conditions:
"The clerk of this township engaged a boat last week and went down the Arkansas as far as Deer creek, in search of the missing bridge. On the island at the mouth of the Walnut he found one bottom cord and part of the flooring lodged in the trees. The next lot, one whole span, was found on an island near Mr. Myers in good condition. Someone had been taking it to pieces, and some of the iron was carried away. About two miles this side of Deer creek another lot was found, badly broken. Fully one half of the missing part was found, and information gained that one span and a half had lodged near the Kaw agency. They also learned that a considerable portion of a red painted bridge was lying at the mouth of Deer creek." 
Preparations for the ferry south of town went steadily on. Lumber for the boat and a cable to stretch across the river had been ordered. The lumber arrived on June 20, and as all necessary arrangements had been completed, the ferry was expected to be in running order very shortly. By this time, however, the free rides from town to the Arkansas had come to a stop, the local paper, in mentioning the matter, stating that "the sturdy yeoman is compelled to take a little exercise between the river and town."  This ferry apparently was sponsored by the city and was to be a free ferry, and in getting it in shape to operate, volunteer help was solicited, as the following would indicate: "Our neighbor merchant came into the office yesterday and demanded that we supply some of our loose men to help fix the ferry. The boys were all loose and not in condition to work." 
The ferry was completed early in July, and at a meeting of the city council, July 6, it was decided to employ C.R. Bridges to run the boat for one month at $1 per day. The ferry was to be free to anyone during that time.  Another notice regarding the ferry, evidently for the benefit of patrons living on the opposite side of the river, read: "Free ferry on the Arkansas at this place. Come and go as often as you please without costing you a cent, as long as it is daylight. After sundown toll will be charged." 
Occasionally something happened on a ferryboat to break the monotony. The following could almost be classed among the "believe it or not" items so frequently found in papers of today:
"A stranger drove on the ferryboat last week with a wagon and a woman sitting in the bottom of it. He had heard that the boat only went half way across the river bed, and when the boat stopped in the middle of the stream a minute he drove off. The horses went down almost out of sight, and the wagon sank until the womans head was all that was out of the water. She sat calmly in the bottom, however, until she reached the shore. It is hardly worth while to add she got wet." 
Following the high water another ferry had been started west of town. This was a toll ferry, and as such, was not popular. At a meeting of the city council on July 2, 1877, an order was issued to pay $250 for the ferryboat west of town and to convert it into a free ferry. 
Another ferryboat had been built for the Arkansas following the flood, which had not been put to use at the time. This boat was about thirty-five feet long by twelve feet eight inches wide. It had a cabin at each end. On the Fourth of July this year the boat was tied up at the west ferry landing with five tons of chattels. Doctor Trichen, of Wichita, was in command of the boat and was moving his entire stock of drugs from the railroad terminus in Sedgwick county to Fort Smith, Ark. Thirteen persons besides the skipper were en route with him. 
About this time Jacob Parr started a ferry across the Arkansas. Just where this ferry was located has not been learned, other than it was at Dentons ford. The announcement as published in the local paper was as follows.
"Jacob Parr will cross parties over the Arkansas at Dentons ford in a small boat for five cents each. He has a team that can be hired for $2 per day, and will run it two days a week, hauling passengers to town, and charging only enough to make the required two dollars." 
The next two items apply to one of the Arkansas City ferries, but which location we are unable to determine:
"On and after August 1st toll will be charged on the ferry for crossing the Arkansas river near Arkansas City as follows, from sunrise to sunset: One single or double team, round trip 10 cents, one passenger on foot or horseback, round trip, 5 cents; each additional span of horses or yoke of cattle, round trip, 10 cents. After sunset 23 cents per trip will be charged." 
During August the ferry boat west of town was moved to a location south of town where the bridge formerly stood. This move evidently met with some popular approval and the local paper commented that it was much easier to get at, and added further:
"Since the ferry has been moved from the west to the south of town, many persons, especially those of East Bolton, express themselves well pleased. We crossed on it last Sunday and found that less than half the distance over sand has to be traveled. If an inclined platform was built to the remaining part of the bridge now, it would help it a great deal more." 
That the removal did not satisfy everyone may be inferred by the following item published the succeeding week: "The ferry is moved," says a Creswell man. "D -- n the ferryboat," says a Bolton man.
The ferries at this time were well patronized. There was much freighting from Arkansas City, Winfield, Wichita and other points along the north side of the river. It was not an uncommon occurrence to arrive at a ferry and find a large number of teams and outfits awaiting their turn to be crossed. Each was anxious to get across and delays of any sort were not popular.
Early in November, 1877, a project was on foot to place another ferry over the Arkansas west of town. The local paper in mentioning the matter commented that the enterprise would be a paying investment to the owners as well as a benefit to the town.  Two weeks later the same authority stated that "arrangements have been about completed to place another ferry west of town."  No further mention of this is found this year than a laconic item in the issue of December 26, which stated that "the new ferry west of town floats like a swan." Two weeks later, the Traveler recorded that "the ferry west of town is running all right again," but failed to mention why it had not been running. This ferry was located between Secs. 26 and 35, T. 34, R. 3 E., and was in operation after the Sixth Street bridge was built, as it saved a drive around the bend of the river.  It was projected by Speers and Walton. Early in April, 1878, they announced that their boat was to be operated by steam, the local paper stating that "the engine used on Christys steam thresher is to be placed on the ferryboat west of town by Speers and Walton, to try the experiment of ferrying by steam."  The same authority, in issue of April 23, following, said: "Speer and Walton will have their steam ferryboat ready to run this week, and before long will make a trial trip to Oxford, El Paso and Wichita." 
The owners named their boat the Arkansas Traveler, and by early in May it was engaged in ferrying as far upstream as Wichita, its cargoes being somewhat diversified, ranging from excursionists to sawlogs and cordwood. On Sunday, May 5, 1878, the boat took a load of excursionists up to Salt City, making the trip without trouble of any kind. Being overconfident they tried going on after dark, when their boat stuck on a sandbar. There they remained until morning, compelling many of the anxious excursionists to find their way back home on foot. On the return. trip the next morning the boat made the distance from Salt City to Arkansas City, seven miles, in three quarters of an hour. 
During June, 1878, high waters in the Arkansas again caused inconvenience to the residents of the county. Even ferry service was temporarily disrupted. The Traveler of June 19 said the river had risen some four feet over the bridge pilings at that place, but also conveyed the good news that "the ferry across the Arkansas is in good running order again, and ready for business."
Down the river there was always a good market for surplus grain, flour, produce, etc. During the late 1870s it was not always an easy matter to sell surplus crops; the railroad was too far away, and the river afforded the most convenient route to a market, so ferry-boats were utilized for conveying such crops. A boat, under the command of Capt. H.B. Pruden, built early in 1879 at Arkansas City for the Pawnee agency, left on April 2 with a cargo of 12,000 pounds of potatoes. 
High water late in 1879 or early in 1880 must have put the bridge at this location out of commission and necessitated the use of the ferry for a time. This was no doubt followed by a shortage of water in the channel, for the local paper said: "The ferry west of town at the present stage of water has assumed more the shape of a bridge than a boat, since it spans the channel from shore to shore."  Midsummer brought good rains to the west and the Arkansas went "on a bender," rendering fords useless and ferries somewhat bothersome. 
Following the disastrous flood of May 27, 1877, which swept away all the bridges in the county, the only action taken was to call an election to be held on August 18, following, for the purpose of voting bonds for building and repairing the bridges on the Arkansas. This measure carried, but up to late in November nothing definite had been decided on. Early in March, 1878, Bolton township voted $2,000 in bonds to be used toward rehabilitating the old bridge, and a contract was let. Within the next six weeks a force was at work and it was thought that within sixty days teams would be crossing.  By early May about half the piles had been driven and work on the spans had commenced. A week later the local paper reported progress as follows:
"The piling on the Arkansas river bridge is about completed, and the floor will be laid in a few more days. Everybody will be glad of it, as it is not a pleasant matter to stick on a sandbar about the time the other party is getting away with your hotel grub. Then if Boone Hartsock was not a religious man the language of the boatman might be obnoxious." 
Two months later the bridge was not yet ready for use, and the ferry was still the only means for crossing. It was thought, however, that within two more weeks the ferry could be dispensed with. There was also a growing feeling that the portion of the bridge on the Bolton side was not safe. The new section had been built some four or five feet higher than the old part, and township authorities were called upon to remedy this situation before the bridge was opened to traffic.  Before this, however, the local paper once more called attention to its unsafe condition and advocated that it should be nailed up and repaired before use. It was finally opened about the middle of September, 1878, about fifteen months after being wrecked by the flood. In August, 1879, the township trustee published a warning that the bridge was unsafe for heavily loaded wagons, and that any wagons carrying two tons must cross at their own risk.  The Traveler continued its fight until a new bridge was built.
Roads were one of the requisites of the newly established Arkansas City, and during the session of the 1871 legislature three state roads were established to connect with the town. One, 89 1/4 miles in length, ran from Florence, in Marion county, via El Dorado, Augusta, Douglass, Rock City, Polks, Walnut City and Winfield. Another, 76 miles in length, ran from Humboldt, via Fredonia, Longton, Elk Falls, Greenfield and Tisdale. The third road, 57 miles long, ran from Wichita to Arkansas City.  In 1877 another road was established, running from Arkansas City to Independence, via Cedar Vale and Sedan, this being a little over 82 miles in length. 
Part IX -- Arkansas River Ferries -- to be concluded in the May 1936 Quarterly.
8. Of the projectors of this ferry, three were prominent in the newspaper business and one was a noted educator. Manning arrived in Kansas in 1859 and published papers in Marysville, Manhattan and Winfield. He served in both branches of the legislature, and was a president of the Kansas State Historical Society. Plumb arrived in Kansas in 1856, and in December that year became foreman of the Herald of Freedom, Lawrence. In June, 1857, he founded the Kanzas News, at Emporia. He helped organize the Eleventh Kansas cavalry, and became its lieutenant colonel. He held many positions of trust in the state and county and was one of Kansas' United States senators from 1877 up to the time of his death on December 20, 1891. Eskridge was editor and publisher of the Emporia Republican, served as lieutenant governor and also as a member of the board of regents of the Emporia State Normal School. Kellogg was attorney general, 1889-1891, and prominent in the State Teachers' Association.
10. This trail went west between townships 34 and 35 to the Sumner county line, and was named for a Sumner county creek which received its name from some travelers who were camped there one night on their return from the settlements where they had first heard a new song titled "Shoo Fly." This trail led to the southwest and was used as a freight route and stage line to Hunnewell and Caldwell, and like all other trails branched south and west. -- Statement of Bert Moore, Winfield, in letters to author, dated January 10, 26, 1936.
11. The Ponca trail, Mr. Moore says, went south on the one half mile section line through sections 1, 12 and 13 to the Indian territory. It "was not named until placing of the Ponca Indians on their reservation in the years 1877 or 1878; was the trail from Arkansas City to Ponca agency on the Salt Fork river, being about forty miles long. Many trails branched from it leading to Indian agencies, cow camps and soldiers' camps. This trail also became a stage line until the building of the Santa Fe in 1886. This trail crossed at right angles the old Black Dog Osage trail near the village of Kildare, Okla. It was over this Ponca trail the homeseekers traveled in April, 1889, to reach the first land opened for settlement in Oklahoma, For several days after they were permitted to cross the Kansas-Indian territory line this trail was one broken line of covered wagons, all going south." -- Letter of Bert Moore, January 26, 1936, to author.
13. "Census of 1875," Cowley County, Creswell township, Arkansas city post office, p. 11, gives the following "A.A. Davis, 42; farmer; native of Ohio; from Wisconsin to Kansas. Wife, Sophia Davis, 38; native of Ohio. Adley, 18; born Wisconsin."
14. Fred C. DeMott, president of the Union State Bank, of Arkansas City, and a resident of that city for sixty-five years, in a letter to the author states that there was no way to cross the river until the bridge was built by subscription and opened as a toll bridge. "Amsley Davis, an old veteran who had taken a claim right by the approach of the bridge was given the job as toll-keeper. He was known as 'Peg Leg Davis' because he had a peg leg. When the bridge was carried away about 1877-78, a man by the name of Boone Hartsock, who had some former experience in ferries, operated a cable ferry. After awhile there was a sand bar in the middle of the river and the ferry could not be operated clear across this part of the river, so they moved it up to the west part of town, a little north of Madison avenue, in S. 86, T. 84, R. 3 E., and operated it there until the bridge was repaired and built over.